The future of energy is taking a leading role in this week’s top news stories, as the largest nuclear fusion reactor ever made has begun assembly in France. The Department of Energy’s select Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory has made a breakthrough in their radio frequency capabilities, making this advanced fusion system seem possible for the first time. Resulting in zero carbon emission and more safe power, nuclear fusion is a promising technology in the field of energy, and very deserving of the hype it has created.
However, as with most of life’s best amenities, it will come at a heavy cost. Forbes laid out the proposal given by a board of scientists from the National Academies of Sciences, in which they state, “…a $200 million annual investment in the technology for the next several decades could lead to a commercially viable reactor before 2050.” Moreover, the new device is not expected to be completed for at least four years, with the long-term goal being an even more advanced and complete reactor finished by the 2030s.
Professor Ian Chapman, Chief Executive of the U.K.’s Atomic Energy Authority, detailed his anticipation to BBC News in saying, “It’s a hugely exciting phase of the project to be in. Most of us came to fusion to change the world – to make a massive difference to how we provide clean energy to future generations…”
The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, or ITER, as this project is called, would be the equivalence of harnessing the sun’s power here on Earth. The world’s first fusion device of this size could be powering thousands of homes every year with very little economic cost. MSN quoted the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, addressing the project with enthusiasm, saying that the development, “…will simultaneously meet the needs of all areas of the globe and meet the climate challenge and preserve natural resources.” He praised the initiative, affirming that, “ITER is clearly an act of confidence in the future.”
As an enticing, cutting-edge innovation, this new endeavor has the collective support of many nations. Still, though it is a collaborative effort, some nations contribute much more than others, with the EU, U.K., and Switzerland funding 45 per cent of the project, and other countries like the U.S. pitching in a much smaller nine per cent. Thankfully, the idea of this machine is so mesmerizing that even private investors like Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Microsoft’s Bill Gates have bought a ticket aboard this power train.
Nevertheless, as we move into a new year and new fiscal budget, this could be a very important project to move up the ranks for American funding and to bring to the attention of the upcoming presidential candidates. After dividing the finances between the government’s mandatory spending, such as health care and social services, and its discretionary spending, for voluntary expenses like education, international affairs, and science investments, there is one noticeable pattern in the country’s allocations. Generally, more of these elective funds are pushed towards the country’s military and overall defense system. The official website of the White House released their proposed 2021 budget as approved by President Trump, listing the defense funds at just over half of all available discretionary funds.
Naturally, the U.S.’ security is of one of its most important focuses, but that does not mean it should eclipse other priorities. As the president has decided to cease all financial support to the World Health Organization as of next year, he could very well increase the U.S.’ stake in this potential ITER payout. In this time of uncontrolled pandemic, the people have become utterly dependence on superior scientific advancement, but it cannot arise without solid monetary backing. Making this unprecedented fiscal redivision now could fill hypothetical pockets twice over in the future, keeping the United States up to par with the ever-expanding field of scientific progression.
If not, the U.S.’ runs the risk of this fusion contraption falling into the wrong hands when it is finalized, having not been a part of its inception. There are many monopolizing and war-hungry countries that could surely use this much unfiltered force for unpredictable amounts of destruction… threatening to warp this rare asset into a bitter regret for the invested nations if it is not closely controlled. We must think of the big picture and the reactor revolution that is to come.